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Catalani – La Wally

Wally – Gweneth-Ann Jeffers

Stromminger – Stephan Richardson

Afra – Heather Shipp

Walter – Alinka Kozari

Hagenbach – Adrian Dwyer

Gellner – Stephen Gadd

Il Pedrone – Charles Johnston


Conductor – Peter Robinson

Director – Martin Lloyd-Evans

Designer – Jamie Vartan

Opera Holland Park, 5 August 2011

I think it fair to describe this as a “one off” piece.  Its Italian composer, Alfredo Catalani, died young. Though La Wally is not his sole opera, it is the only one to have attained any form of lasting success, and that on the basis of one hauntingly beautiful aria “Ebbn?...Ne andro lontana” that it clings to a toe-hold in the repertoire.


OHP are tireless champions of the Verismo school of operas and have introduced London audiences to a series of works that other companies would not have risked.  Whilst La Wally falls neatly within the time frame of that style, its plot could never be considered realistic.  Neither does it fall into the Verdian mould of heroic characters and rousing choruses.   Instead it seems to me to lean back to the German romantics, Schumann’s Genoveva and Weber’s Der Freischutz spring to mind and the characters play second fiddle to the orchestra.


Conductor Peter Robinson drew a superb reading from the City of London Sinfonia, making the interlude and introduction to Act 3 one of the high points of the evening.   The chorus also sang with enthusiasm and the score is full of good tunes.


OHP had assembled an excellent cast of acting singers, all matching the demands of their roles effectively, and it would be unfair to single out any for special praise. 


The wide but shallow strip which is Holland Park’s stage led director Martin Lloyd-Evans into the trap of a consistent straight line placement of the largish chorus, just to fill the space.   There is also the little matter of an avalanche to be staged in the closing scene.  Jamie Vartan’s collapsing canvas screen did as good a job as one could hope for – the icy crescendo from the orchestra says it all!

This opera has been a favourite of mine for many years and the Decca recording [Decca 4607442 with Tebaldi, del Monaco & Cappuccilli] would be worn thin with repeated playing if CDs were prone to degradation such as one's shellacs used to suffer.  It has been on my wish-list to see on stage (I missed University College’s production in 1995). I am grateful to OHP and hope their significant success will encourage other companies to welcome this piece back into the repertoire.

Serena Fenwick